Education news
  • Students earn college credits while still attending high school.

Students who are looking for a chance to earn college credit hours while still in high school are using it to good advantage as Polk School District.

So much so the state is recognizing local educators efforts as one of the top districts in the state outside of the metro Atlanta area running with the program.

Polk County College and Career Academy CEO Katie Thomas especially sees the increased growth in the program locally and the statewide recognition as yardsticks for showing that in just a few years, dual enrollment is working locally.

“We’ve been a leader in Northwest Georgia in rolling out our program for students and giving them opportunities,” she said. “We’ve devoted a lot of resources here into what we’ve done and continue to do.”

The district has good reason to celebrate their program based on figures Thomas provided for how the program has worked out over the past years. Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school calendar year, credit hours earned have gone from just a single hour at Cedartown High School to 253 hours during the 2016-2017 school year. During the first half of the school year so far, an additional 184 hours have been earned at the high school as well.

At Rockmart High School during the same period, it has jumped from 9 credit hours to 147 credit hours earned, with an additional 131 credit hours already completed this school year as well.

Those are just for more traditional dual enrollment hours as well, and don’t include credit hours earned through the HON Company partnership Project Success for students interested in manufacturing — totaling 46 hours since it started in the 2013-2014 school year — and the GNTC Cosmetology program started in January 2015, which has seen students finish 62 credit hours through a program with the technical college.

Additionally, a new program started this year for Medical Front Office Assistants have seen students complete 19 credit hours as well.

Thomas’ local report also added three more programs that will be starting this year for students interested in becoming Auto Electrical and Electronics Systems Technicians, Construction Management Apprentices and for the Welding program.

Additionally, the report added that during the past years, 34 GNTC certificates have been handed out locally, and last year five students from Polk School District earned Georgia Highland College Associate Degrees, with a full partnership now in place with the school and more expected.

To date, some 365 students district-wide are enrolled in the program through Georgia Northwestern, with an additional 28 in the Georgia Highlands program, with 26 courses offered between the two schools.

“The success rate we’re experiencing is far greater than we imagined,” Thomas said. “It goes to show that when you set the bar high, they not only meet those standards but exceed it.”

The report created by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts Performance Audit Division looked at school districts across the state and how their Dual Enrollment programs are working overall. Cedartown High School was ranked second in the state’s rural school districts for total percentage of participation (11 percent) of students at the school, with 4,742 paid credit hours completed with an average of 18.1 hours per student.

Cedartown ranked better than the Georgia Cyber Academy in participation, and was only behind Camden County High School in the audit report.

Superintendent Laurie Atkins joined others in providing praise for the program once the report was sent out early last week.

Atkins said that she is “extremely pleased and proud of the accomplishments of our dual enrollment program and its recent recognition as having the highest success rate in Georgia.”

“The students’ hard work and determination to earn college credits while in high school is to be commended,” she said. “I thank our dedicated teachers and administrators for making these opportunities possible for our students, and I look forward to many more outstanding achievements for Polk School District.”

One of the criticisms raised in the state’s report — indeed in the opening paragraph — was that for the most part, dual enrollment programs don’t have a clear statewide vision and plan, and thus it is difficult for the auditors to determine how successful it actually is overall.

That’s a problem that Thomas said they’ve already thought of here as far as what goals the Polk School District looks to obtain from dual enrollment. She said it is all based on what the student wants to achieve as they move forward in high school and beyond, and that efforts are being made to ensure that both parents and students understand what they are getting into.

“If students are enrolled or plan to enroll, we add an additional advisement meeting for parents and students,” she said. “We work with them and develop a plan through the rest of their high school years and on toward college, individualized plan... We have a focused plan, we’re not just saying ‘these are your options, sign up for what you want to.’"